Do More Against Sexual Predators

West Virginia state senators have taken one small step to rectify unconscionable failures in getting justice for victims of sexual assault. They and the House of Delegates should follow up with another critical reform.

It is difficult to understand why, in some ways, those who have been sexually assaulted have been treated as second-class victims for so many years. One wonders if that institutional attitude prompted some to forgo filing criminal complaints against predators.

Now, fortunately, legislators are taking another look at the problem. Last week, the state Senate unanimously approved a bill establishing new rights for victims of sexual assault.

If the measure is enacted — as it should be — victims will be allowed to have someone accompany them to medical examinations and police interviews. Safeguards against disposal of evidence in sexual assault cases also are included.

Another distressing — and, to be blunt, inexcusable — lapse is addressed in a separate bill sponsored by state Sen. Mike Woelfel, D-Cabell. A former prosecuting attorney, Woelfel has commented that, “The fact is, we don’t treat our sexual assault victims very well.”

No, we do not, to judge by information Woelfel has provided. The State Police laboratory takes an average of 440 days to process “rape kits,” he said. “Rape kits” include physical evidence, sometimes including the DNA of perpetrators.

Woelfel has introduced a bill, SB 36, intended to speed up the process of testing “rape kits.” It, too, should be enacted.

At the same time, legislators should consider providing additional funding to the State Police laboratory. It can do only so much with the equipment and number of technicians it has now — and in case anyone has not noticed, West Virginia is in the midst of a drug-fueled crime wave.

Merely getting justice for victims of sexual assault ought to be enough to spur lawmakers to do more. There is another reason for them to act, however. It is that every day’s delay in putting a sexual predator behind bars is another 24 hours in which he or she is free to harm others.

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